For Louisiana pro Darold Gleason, the quest to make the Bassmaster Elite Series that unofficially began in 2010 went down to the last minutes of his last day of Bassmaster competition for the 2020 season. With a 4:10 check-in looming, he caught his second fish of the second day at the Lewisville Central Open at 4:07 within sight of the weigh-in.
Then his season got pushed into overtime – and double overtime – and triple overtime. Under the original plan, it would have been over in September, but the COVID-altered schedule got pushed back. Gleason was casting on borrowed time, and still he needed more.
For an angler who has guided for years on Toledo Bend, where 8-, 9- and 10-pounders are comparatively common, that single 2 1/2-pounder on Lewisville might prove to be the most important fish of his career, but it wasn’t enough to give him a clear path to the Elites. It pushed him into 57th at Lewisville, which in turn tied him with Paul Browning for fifth overall in the Central Opens. Only the top four anglers earned Elite spots.
Gleason edged out Browning by virtue of the tiebreaker – overall weight on Days 1 and 2 of the four Opens – but that still left him on the outside looking in. He’d have to wait two more weeks to find out the results of the Eastern Open on Lay Lake, to see if any of the four competitors ahead of him would double-qualify and open up a path. Jason Christie and Marc Frazier were in position to do so, and while Christie faltered, Frazier held up his end of the deal. His 49th-place finish at Lay wasn’t necessarily pretty, but it allowed him to hold onto fourth place in the overall Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year race, providing Gleason with his golden ticket.
“The waiting was brutal,” Gleason recalled. “I was traveling home from another event, burning up Ronnie Moore’s phone all day.” He knew that if KJ Queen were to win, it would knock him out, so when Queen was about to weigh in, he and his wife pulled over at a truck stop to take the news together. Queen ended up 10th. “My wife and I jumped out of the truck and had a teary embrace. We had finally done it. It was huge for us.”
In addition to his guiding career, Gleason has demonstrated that he can compete with the big boys, both at home and on the road. He won a 2019 Open, which qualified him for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic. During the ensuing season, he fished not only the Central Opens but also a full slate of FLW Tour events. He also qualified for the Toyota Series Championship.
“Winning the Open at Toledo Bend and getting to fish the Classic showed me that I could do it,” he said. “It revealed how badly I wanted it. It’s just kind of the next step in my business, kind of a calculated deal.” While he could have continued his successful career at home and fished national events at his leisure, his wife Randi’s long-term battle with cystic fibrosis make it more urgent. “I wanted to accomplish my biggest dream while we were both still healthy.”
Indeed, it is a team effort for the Gleason family and while he will be the one on the water executing the plan, they’re both fully invested in the process and the outcome.
“We are dream chasers, goal chasers, and we set our sights pretty high,” Darold said. “At some point we’ll actually put our goals down on paper. Goals are easier to chase if you have to look at them every day.”
He’s burnished his credentials on the national stage, but clearly his roots lie chasing “ocean ponies” on the trophy-filled waters of east Texas and Louisiana. How will that play out on tour? As a former school teacher who now teaches marine electronics classes, the offshore game is a big part of his repertoire, but he also relishes sight fishing. Nevertheless, while many of the tour venues will be new to him, he doesn’t want to get locked into the idea that some will favor his skill set more than others.
“I enjoy fishing places with great populations of fish,” he said. “The low-weight grinders can be tough on me mentally. But I don’t really care where we’re going. We’ll be there whether we like it or not.”
Indeed, while the 38-year-old Gleason can only wonder what would have happened if he’d been fishing the Elites for the past 10 years, the waiting – both in the long-term, and over the course of the arduous 2020 season – made it a bit sweeter. He also feels that the long road to the tour provided him with a greater chance of long-term success. He’d previously developed a list of fisheries “where dreams go to die.” One entrant was the Arkansas River, which had knocked him out of contention for the Elites in 2014. The other was Lewisville, which despite being relatively close to home had offered up a triple-digit finish in 2012. So it’s quite fitting that Lewisville helped to push him over the top.
“It doesn’t shock me that this is how I got in,” he said. “It pushes me. It shows me that I’ve matured as an angler. Eight or nine years ago, I would’ve put the boat on the trailer early that last day at Lewisville.”